Semester III March-June 2017


Introduction to semester III

On December 20, 1970, Edward Gierek was made the first secretary of the Communist Party. He replaced Władysław Gomulka, who was forced to step down, when, as a result of deploying police and army forces to supress worker strikes on the Polish coast, more than forty people were killed and more than eleven hundred injured. Ten years later, it was Gierek who had to resign, this time without any bloodshed following the signing of the August agreements. During his time in power, mass violence against workers was used only once, in 1976, after the strikes in Radom and Ursus. Those events and the resulting desire to help the victims of persecution, gave way to the Workers' Defence Committee. The decade ends in December 1981 when Wojciech Jaruzelski imposes martial law.

This political calendar is worth remembering not only because it is closely linked to cultural life. The dynamics of those changes also highlight that the worker was the important, undisputed and transforming hero of that decade. Contrary to appearances, he was never in the foreground in socialist Poland, outside the context of pure propaganda, which used the collective "working class". What is significant is that cinema accompanied the emancipation of the worker. In the autumn of 1971, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Tomasz Zygadło completed the documentary Workers '71: Nothing About Us Without Us/Robotnicy '71: nic o nas bez nas. The new government had professed a more open attitude, which, however, proved to be nothing more than an empty promise; after numerous alterations by the censor and substantial editing of footage, the film was finally shown under the title Hosts/Gospodarze. The film, however, would later become an inspiration for Andrzej Chodakowski and Andrzej Zajączkowski, authors of the documentary Robotnicy '80/Workers' 80, shot at the gates of the Gdansk Shipyard in August 1980 – also used in Człowiek z żelaza/Man of Iron by Andrzej Wajda.

The seventies began, therefore, with promises, both unfulfilled, like those relating to the settlement of the events of December, and fulfilled, like those associated with the improvement of living conditions in Poland. Positive economic changes, noticeable for ordinary citizens since they  involved increased wages and more goods becoming available, were real at the beginning of the decade; at the same time the primary cause of strikes in 1970, 1976 and 1980 was rising prices. Consumptionist socialism (or, as it is called by historian Marcin Zaremba, "bigosowy" [cabbage stew]) developed based on loans, but also brought a certain opening to the West, the flow of goods, and greater mobility for Poles. The belief in Polish power and growth was effectively (for the time) sustained by propaganda, the most important instrument of which became television. The institution managed by Maciej Szczepanski, fast-growing technologically and financially, on the one hand gave its audience lively entertainment (mainly on the newly launched "Program 2"), but on the other hand showed the "host" of the country during his "visits" and "meetings" – sometimes, as in the case of the TV series Czterdziestolatek/The Forty Year Old (1974-1977), effectively combining contradicting notions: viewers’ ludic needs and the persuasive intentions of the authorities.

The film industry also had to meet the objectives of propaganda; to produce works showing the image of Poland as a country of success, developing along with the growth of the entire economy. The resolution of the United Workers’ Party Politburo and the Presidium of the Polish Government of December 5, 1973 on the increase of the socio-cultural role of Polish cinema announced, inter alia, the development and modernisation of the film production base. Executive regulations – passed in 1975 – did not have any chance to be implemented (a year later, sugar rationing was introduced in Poland). The number of viewers in cinemas also decreased. On the one hand, some of them watched TV instead, on the other – the number of cinemas decreased, existing facilities were often of a low standard and were too few, leaving much of the country neglected. The authorities also manipulated the size of audiences, restricting the number of copies of each title and their distribution (for example, among the films that premiered in 1973, In Desert and Wilderness/W pustyni i w puszczy by Władysław Ślesicki had only 75 copies, Hubal by Bohdan Poręba – 59, while The Hourglass Sanatorium/Sanatorium Pod Klepsydrą by Wojciech Has – 5).

The audiences liked Polish grand epic films. There was an entire period when such films were made, beginning in the mid-sixties with The Saragossa Manuscript/Rękopis znaleziony w Saragossie, Pharaoh/Faraon and The Ashes/Popioły, and ending in 1975 with Nights and Days/Noce i dnie by Jerzy Antczak. Blockbusters not only attracted viewers and mobilised critics, but they also confirmed the power of Polish cinema able to bear such expensive projects. Oscar nominations for, respectively, The Deluge/Potop by Jerzy Hoffman (1974), Andrzej Wajda's Ziemia obiecana/The Promised Land (1974) and Nights and Days/Noce i dnie (1975) further reinforced the belief in the power of Polish cinema (which, however, did not translate into success with foreign audiences). Made with a flourish, enlivened by multidimensional characters, those works reintroduced Polish literature into the “bloodstream of culture”, provoking a debate not only on literary tradition, but also about its meaning and place in contemporary Poland (such as the ending of The Promised Land, to name but one).

Of course, they benefited from the alibi of high literature, but often – the most spectacular example being The Deluge – they in fact responded to the need for a popular, not to say, therapeutic story. The Leper/Trędowata by Jerzy Hoffman (1976) did not have that alibi and was therefore massacred by critics, but within three years it had been seen by nearly nine million viewers (Pharaoh/Faraon needed thirteen years to attract a similar audience). The adaptation of Mniszkówna’s novel sparked a great debate in the press. Critics agreed in their opinion of the film, lamenting that the great Polish post-war educational project – developing the good taste of the masses – failed. In the course of the dispute, one party was accused of a penchant for kitsch, and the other – of contempt for ordinary people.

The seventies brought a significant number of films based on real events or the literature of the nineteen twenties and thirties: the outstanding debut of Grzegorz Królikiewicz Straight Through/Na wylot (1972), films by Janusz Majewski, including Jealousy and Medicine/Zazdrość i medycyna (1973), The Enchanted Stations/Zaklęte rewiry (1975), Gorgonowa’s Case/Sprawa Gorgonowej (1977), or Death of a President/Śmierć prezydenta by Jerzy Kawalerowicz (1977). Regardless of the differences in style and theme of these works, they were characterised by an analytical approach to the universal political and social mechanisms, as well as an interest in the choices made by the individual, as well as existential issues, especially crime and evil, in a form that could not be reduced to a social context or intervention of external forces.

Artists who tried to address the events that had occurred at the end of the previous decade resorted to a historic costume and understatement. Such themes could not be shown on the screen directly (for example, Student Book/Indeks by Janusz Kijewski in 1977 was detained by censors until 1981, one reason being that it featured the March 1968 strikes). It is difficult, however, not to trace the echo and mood of 1968 in films such as Everything for Sale/Wszystko na sprzedaż (1969) and Landscape After Battle/Krajobraz po bitwie (1970) by Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi’s Illumination/Iluminacja (1973) or How Far Away, And Yet How Close/Jak daleko stąd, jak blisko by Tadeusz Konwicki (1972). The latter film – probably the most personal work of the director, who offered a new formula of individual expression through the medium of film – does not so much show the events of the past (also the most recent, such as the departures of Polish Jews leaving Poland), but presents a picture of a crippled, "holey" individual and collective memory. It demonstrated the catalogue of omissions affecting Polish identity, related primarily to the suppression of the multicultural history of the Second Republic and the war and its consequences converted into a narrative of martyrdom. A similar recapitulation, also in his own individual style, is Wojciech Has’ The Hourglass Sanatorium based on Bruno Schulz's prose – an extraordinary meditation on time and a dream-like portrayal of the experience of Polish Jews, residents of the mythical shtetl – on the one hand facing the Book, while on the other living in the shadow of the impending Holocaust.

The political crises of 1968 and 1970 were closely associated with the crisis of public language (“The state is the most outstanding Polish poet”, as Kornhauser wrote) and the language of literary and film narrative. The first definite statement on the subject was The Cruise/Rejs by Marek Piwowski (1970), although it was not necessarily appreciated in this regard at the time. Next to The Structure of Crystal/Struktura kryształu by Krzysztof Zanussi (1969), it heralded a new quality in narrating a story in film (today usually only associated with New Wave attempts). The feeling that it is necessary to describe the Polish reality – and to develop new languages for such a description – was what characterised many works of the young generation of that era. It found expression in the works by the poets of the New Wave, such as Stanisław Barańczak, Adam Zagajewski, Ryszard Krynicki and Julian Kornhauser. In 1974, Zagajewski and Kornhauser, in a collection of essays Świat nieprzedstawiony [Unrepresented world], explicitly formulated recommendations for artists: “recognising reality is not the only task of culture, but fulfilling this obligation is a social condition for that culture to function as a whole”. Similar demands and the search for a new art form could be seen in the literature, theatre, visual arts and the humanities of that era – there is a reason such phenomena were collectively defined as Young Culture, also known as the culture of “natives”; its representatives were born just before the war or later, and their entire youth – and education – was spent in communist Poland. That new quality was noticed for the first time after the debut of Jerzy Skolimowski, but in the seventies it was related to the awareness of the entire generation.

In cinema, a collective voice was heard for the first time at the International Documentary Film Festival in Krakow in 1971. Artists whose works were shown there included: Marek Piwowski (his film Corkscrew/Korkociąg won an award), Tomasz Zygadło (his Elementary School/Szkoła podstawowa won the international competition) and Krzysztof Gradowski (awarded for the film Consul and Others/Konsul i inni). Directors such as Krzysztof Kieslowski, Wojciech Wiszniewski, Marcel Łozinski and Grzegorz Królikiewicz made their first documentary films. It was during this festival that the debate on the nature of documentary cinema began, continued later in the press. Things postulated by young artists might have seemed contradictory. On the one hand, they emphasised the benefits of new technological achievements (such as lighter cameras and better live sound recording), that guaranteed swift reaction and authenticity. On the other – they called for a break with the false "verism", which under the guise of recording reality, depicts banal observations and obvious conclusions, as Królikiewicz put it in "Film" magazine. The camera was to become an instrument for studying reality, hence going beyond the convention of documentary film, deconstructing it, resorting to staging and metaphorical structures.

In the early seventies, feature films also heralded the transformation of the language of film. Aside from the already mentioned Straight Through/Na wylot, in which the author tried to show reality "outside the frame", noteworthy were: Andrzej Żuławski's Third Part of The Night/Trzecia część nocy i (1971); he had been mainly assisting Wajda prior to making this film. The director made a film that is on the one hand cold thanks to the use of colour, while on the other – reproduces the feverish state of the protagonists in the fragmented narrative, making it impossible to separate reality from ravings. It also presented a new view of the Second World War, demythologising it and setting that experience within the universal order – the apocalyptic perspective.

Above all, however, the cinema of that era features a contemporary hero – finally with some discernible qualities, not just a stereotypical part of the rusted formula of film; thus a break is made with the great weakness of the cinema of the previous period, which (with some exceptions – such as Skolimowski) lacked observations of life and attempts to address the problems of modern day. Young cinema heroes are on the verge of adulthood, but they remain rebellious or wary of reality – to name, for example, That Love Must Be Killed/ Trzeba zabić tę miłość directed by Janusz Morgenstern, written by a "native" Janusz Głowacki, starring the outstanding Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak (premiered 1972), God's Finger/Palec Boży by Antoni Krauze starring Marian Opania (1973) and Krzysztof Zanussi’s Illumination/Iluminacja with Stanisław Latałło (1973). Zanussi (like his associate Edward Żebrowski, author of Salvation/Ocalenie) consistently explores relationships between characters, also more mature ones, looking especially carefully at microscale relationships, such as family or neighbours (Family Life/Życie rodzinne, Behind the Wall/Za ścianą, Quarterly Balance/Bilans kwartalny, and later Spiral/Spirala, Constans, Contract/Kontrakt).

Zanussi is sometimes seen as the patron of the cinema of moral anxiety, primarily as the author of Camouflage/Barwy ochronne. The film, which takes place during a conference for young linguists, presents environmental relationships and hierarchies as well as the vague, apparent opposition of opportunism and non-conformism. At the Polish Film Festival in Gdansk in 1977, Zanussi received the Grand Prix (also awarded were Edward Kłosiński for cinematography and Zbigniew Zapasiewicz for the role of a cynical scholar). Regardless of the quality of the film itself, the decision of the jury was seen as the deliberate action of the authorities to avoid awarding Wajda's Man of Marble/Człowiek z marmuru (which won the journalists’ award), aimed at breaking the solidarity of the film community. Outside the contemporary context, what was important in Wajda's film was the settlement with the Stalinist period – a recurring subject in several films of the second half of the seventies: Shivers/Dreszcze by Wojciech Marczewski and Great Run/Wielki bieg by Jerzy Domaradzki. Of course, neither Zanussi nor Wajda can be seen as representatives of the young cinema generation. However, most works of that style were made in two film studios: Tor with Stanislaw Różewicz as the head (replaced in 1980 by Zanussi), and the newly established (and closed down in 1983) Zespół X with Andrzej Wajda in charge. Both directors also made films that fall within the broad definition of this style.

The name itself – the cinema of moral anxiety – coined by Janusz Kijowski in a debate on the young cinema, still raises objections as irrelevant or even misleading; the main focus of that group was not supposed to be moral reflection but rather an expression of reality, and – above all – criticism of social relations. Contemporary critics accused artists of triviality of description, declarative and interventional character, and not so much examining the reality as providing a journalistic commentary. Moreover, filmmakers had to be mindful of censorship to a much greater degree than in the case of theatre or literature (after 1976 unabridged versions of censored books were distributed in the so called “second circulation” – unofficially). In the case of film production, however, there was no escaping the fact the state funding was the only option, and censors had a whole repertoire of repressive measures, cuts and restrictions of distribution. Hence, the polemical edge was at times directed against abstract institutions or “centres”, but the criticised part of reality – as in reportage – was limited to a single school, editorial board, theatre or workplace.

The voice of young cinema was clearly heard in the new institutional context. The Association of Polish Filmmakers, formed in 1966, was by then well-established and represented the film community in dealings with the authorities. The expressly declared goal of young artists was to communicate with the audience. Such an exchange of ideas was possible on various levels: in 1974, the first Feature Film Festival was held in Gdansk, in 1973 – the festival "The Young and Film" was launched in Koszalin, in 1969 – in Łagów; film clubs and art-house cinemas were actively involved in the debate, as was the press, particularly the magazines “Kino” and “Film”. Generational community was built on similar experiences: documentary debuts in the first half of the decade, and /or TV projects in the late 1970s (television, it is worth noting, was an important outlet for novice filmmakers). Authors of the cinema of moral anxiety were therefore young artists who subscribed to the tradition of the intelligentsia and the mission thereof; their target audience were mostly their peers.

The importance of the "young cinema" – debated for several years – was ultimately confirmed at the festival in Gdansk in 1979. The main prize went to Camera Buff/Amator by Krzysztof Kieślowski, other awarded films included: Kung Fu by Janusz Kijowski, Chance/Szansa by Feliks Falk, Provincial Actors/Aktorzy prowincjonalni by Agnieszka Holland (best actress award for Halina Łabonarska), Nightmares/Zmory by Wojciech Marczewski and Clinch/Klincz by Piotr Andrejew. Other filmmakers who made their feature debut more or less at that time include: Tomasz Zygadła, Barbara Sass, Janusz Zaorski and Marcel Łoziński (the latter with his How to Live/Jak żyć). Directors usually wrote screenplays themselves, which confirms their authorial approach to the problems presented in their films. There were also cinematographers associated with the cinema of moral anxiety, such as Edward Kłosiński or Jacek Petrycki, and – of course – actors: Krystyna Janda, Dorota Stalińska, Piotr Fronczewski, or Jerzy Stuhr.

The moral anxiety cinema hero is a young man, usually an idealist (although the opposite is true of Feliks Falk’s Top Dog/Wodzirej), at the beginning of his professional career. The professional (public) sphere is, however, closely associated with the family (private) world and the crisis in the workplace overlaps with personal problems. The boundaries of a possible rebellion are examined in action, although they are rarely crossed – as when Filip (Camera Buff/Amator) directs the camera lens at himself, or when Agnieszka and Maciek (Man of Marble/Człowiek z Marmuru) leave the television building – nor are the characters successful in their attempts. Typically, they are locked within the narrow corridors of institutions, living in a world threatened by implosion, where emotions are bottled up and cannot get out.

They burst onto the streets after August 1980. One of the outcomes of the August agreements was less rigorous censorship; the ban on distribution of certain documentaries was lifted (including films by Kieślowski, Łozinski and Wiszniewski), several feature films were also released. However, what changed primarily was the context for the new cinema. Contemporary reality was still a living subject, indeed, it appeared to be even more important to address it, as social changes should be recorded as they happening. Andrzej Wajda did so in his Man of Iron/Człowiek z żelaza, in which he used extensive documentary footage from 1970–1980; he does even more than that, as he constructs a myth, a story of reconciliation between a father and his son, inscribing it into the birth of national unity and solidarity.

Stanislaw Bareja took a different approach to describing reality. His film style, universally panned by critics, evolved over the entire decade. It is crystallised in The Bear/Miś, a synthetic portrayal of social relations based, on the one hand, on the nationalisation of everything, while on the other – on the privatisation of the public carried out by enterprising Poles. Today, Bareja is seen primarily as author of films about the "absurdities of reality", but he also showed how under such absurd circumstances, overcoming the restrictions of a rationed economy helped form close social bonds between people. The issue of "distribution of meat and fat mass", however, was a persistent problem, as Agnieszka Holland accurately and bitterly noted in her film Lonely Woman/Kobieta samotna. Her character was neither a member of the Communist Party, nor the "Solidarity" – she was simply a part of the silent masses of "worried Madonnas of the queues”. However, the film was not released until 1987; in retrospect, its mood seems to accurately anticipate sentiments during martial law. Before December 13, 1981, however, viewers were able to see Fever/Gorączka by the same director, based on the novel by Andrzej Strug, “The Story of One Bullet” – as Holland put it, is a story about a revolution "eaten by the mechanism of betrayal, provocation, internal defeat and external violence”.

Polish Cinema 1971–1981, Iwona Kurz


Lecturer dr Rafał Marszałek

Lecturer prof. Tadeusz Miczka

Lecturer red. Andrzej Bukowiecki

Lecturer dr Joanna Preizner

Lecturer dr Paulina Kwiatkowska

Lecturer prof. Krzysztof Kornacki

  • STARDUST, reż. Andrzej Kondratiuk

    1982 r. 58 min
  • AXILIAD *, reż. Witold Leszczyński

    1985 r. 78 min


Lectures and screenings

Monday, at 5 PM

Kinematograf Cinema

plac Zwycięstwa 1


Semester pass

120 PLN


Polish Film Academy Coordinator

Anna Michalska

tel. 792 262 096

Recommended video

  • Polish Cinema 1919-1929, prof. Tadeusz Lubelski
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  • History of the Polish film industry, Andrzej Bukowiecki
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